Could an ethanol by-product be the next big thing in food?

DDG cookies

Padu Krishnan, far right, and his team at South Dakota State University and developing food-grade DDG products.

Food, feed, fiber, fuel and…cookies?

Minnesota’s corn farmers take great pride in growing the first four items on that list. But cookies? That’s not something that comes to mind when thinking about corn farming.

However, thanks to funding support from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), Dr. Padmanaban Krishnan at South Dakota State University is working on a project that adds food-grade distiller’s dried grains (DDG) to baked foods like cookies, flatbreads, pizza crusts and snacks.

DDG are a by-product of the ethanol-making process and are most commonly used as a high-protein livestock feed. When a 56-pound bushel of corn is made into ethanol, you get 2.8 gallons of fuel and about 18 pounds of DDG.

There are currently no food products on the market that contain DDG, but continued research is progressing toward bringing a product to grocery store shelves one day. By using DDG to replace a small portion (2-10 percent) of the flour in food products, that product’s protein and dietary fiber percentages increase significantly.

“That’s what the food industry is begging for right now,” Krishnan said. “Good tasting foods with higher nutritional values.”

Taste is something that Krishnan is always experimenting with. If using DDG in food products is going to catch on, the initial products have to taste good right away. So far, Krishnan says the reviews of products like cookies, flatbreads and a corn puffs snack that contain DDG have received favorable reviews.

“People have liked the products they’ve tried, but I’m always working to make improvements and get a wide variety of people to give me feedback on taste,” he said. “Shelf life and texture are also critical as we keep moving forward.”

This snicker-doodle cookies contains 5 percent DDG.

This snicker-doodle cookies contains 5 percent DDG.

At a recent MCGA Expanded Uses team meeting, Krishnan shared samples of cookies and a corn puffs snack that contained anywhere from 2-10 percent DDG. Both products received a thumbs up from the farmers around the table who tried them.

MCGA is supporting Dr. Krishnan’s research because food-grade DDG offer yet another use for corn and add to the list of ethanol by-products that already includes livestock feed, corn oil and carbon dioxide.

“Developing new uses for corn is especially important these days with lower corn prices,” said Northfield farmer and MCGA President Bruce Peterson. “We need to keep finding ways to add value to the crops we grow.”

Once Dr. Krishnan grinds the DDG into flour and sterilizes it, it’s ready to be used in the test kitchen. Instead of focusing on using a large quantity of DDG in a single product, Dr. Krishnan adds small amounts in a wide variety of foods.

He says flatbreads can handle up to 20 percent DDGs while cookies are best around 6-10 percent.

“We have an opportunity here to improve the world food supply and increase profitability for our farmers,” Krishnan said.

Look for Krishnan handing out samples of his food-grade DDG products at various events this summer. The more feedback he gets on taste, the better he can refine his products and get them closer to market.

“We’re making steady progress,” he said. “We still have a lot of work left to do, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

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